New Era Caps

Most of you will recognize the brand New Era as being the official cap of most major league sports. One of the last remaining American manufacturers of hats, we embroider and sell New Era caps every day and thought you would enjoy a little background on the company as we did in the following article.

Original Article Can be found Here.

I’M the fourth generation of my family to run our 90-year-old company, which makes official caps and apparel for major sports leagues.

CHRISTOPHER H. KOCH, Chief executive, New Era Cap Company, Buffalo

AGE 50

FAVORITE SPORTS FIGURE Ty Wigginton, Colorado Rockies

LOVES TO Golf, snowboard and collect wines

After high school, I began working for the company, first in manufacturing, where I learned the 22 steps it takes to produce a cap. Later, I worked in every department from research to distribution to sales, until I became president in 1993.

I was following in the footsteps of my father and grandfather who inherited the business, which was started in 1920 by my great-grandfather, Ehrhardt Koch, an immigrant from Germany. After learning to make men’s hats, he decided to borrow $5,000 from his aunt to start a business producing men’s fitted caps, known as Gatsby or Ivy League caps, made to match men’s suits.

The company has always been the main focus of our family. Even in the 1940s, my grandmother, Marion, would dye white wool at home, in a hand-cranked washing machine, to make caps in colors like Kelly green and scarlet.

My father, David, worked for the company for two decades, and became chief executive in 1972. From the time I was little, I remember talking about the company, whether at dinner or on vacation. That helped form the bond with my father. My mother, Valerie, was also involved in the business. She was raising four children and at the same time working in cap design and embroidery.

I graduated from high school in 1978, and was going to college at night and working at the manufacturing facility during the day. In the 1980s, a big new market opened for our company when sports fans wanted to buy the official caps worn by their favorite teams, and not just replicas. It was a turning point for our business, which had been selling our 59Fifty, or Brooklyn-style cap, to Major League Baseball players to wear as part of their uniforms.

In 1990, I was promoted to vice president for sales, shortly before New Era became one of the two official suppliers of caps worn on the playing field. We worked with Major League Baseball to add the M.L.B. logo on the back of every cap – along with the New Era logo.

Then, we were catapulted into the fashion world after Spike Lee called in 1996 and asked for a red Yankees cap instead of the traditional navy blue. After he wore it to that year’s World Series, everyone wanted one, including hip-hop and rock stars. Fred Durst of the band Limp Bizkit wore his so often that in 2002 we collaborated to produce a series of caps for retail sales.

When my father died that same year, I took over as C.E.O. I began expanding both nationally and globally, in Europe and in Canada. About 25 percent of our business now is in international sales.

This year was our 90th anniversary, so we invited 90 influential fans to create one-of-a-kind caps to be auctioned for charity. The idea stemmed from our “Fly Your Own Flag” ad campaign, which promotes New Era caps as a means of self-expression.

This year, we will make more than 40 million caps, with some $500 million in revenue. We still make caps in this country, but during the recent recession, we lost a lot of small accounts so we had to close some of our factories in the South. We still employ 600 people in the Buffalo area and some 1,500 employees around the world.

I was given a great foundation to build the company, and, with four children, I hope to see it run by a fifth generation.

I was lucky to have my father as a mentor. I still think about him every day; he’s the one guy I have to answer to.

As told to Elizabeth Olson.

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